Monday, June 2, 2008

Two of the greatest people I will ever know!

I can still remember my small hand in his, the calluses from all of his hard work. He started his working life as a small boy, never finishing the first grade. His family were sharecroppers and he had to work in the fields. I’m sure as a boy he never even realized the sacrifices he was making to help his family. Only when he was in his 60’s did he start to realize that no being able to read was such a tragedy. I actually think it was when I started first grade that he realized what all he had missed. I also remember him sitting, looking at magazines and my grandmother would say, “Ambers, what are you doing, you can’t read.” In his gentle but strong voice he would say, “Edna, I’m looking at the pictures.”

Before I started first grade my Mother taught me how to read and write. When I began first grade the teacher went around the room and asked each child if they had attended kindergarten. It wasn’t a common practice in the 60’s. When she came to me, I said, “no, I went to my grandmother’s house!” I’m sure that must have thrown her for a loop.

Papa might not have had a formal education, but my Papa was a brilliant man. I’ve often wondered what he would have become if he had been able to read and write. He grew up to work in textile mills and was very accomplished at dying textiles and I’ve been told , was selected to dye fabric for draperies at the White House. Since my relatives are all dead and gone, I can’t tell you who the President was at the time, but I can remember my mother telling me the story. His supervisor at the mill came to him and said, “Am, if you will go back to school, the company will pay for everything so that you can learn to read and write.” My Papa, ever so proud, declined the generous offer saying, “Damn it man, don’t you know I’m too old to learn to read and write?” He was only in his 20’s at the time.

He was born at the turn of the century. May 31, 1899, Ambrose Weathers came into the world. He had no given middle name but at some point early in his life it became apparent that the “world” required a middle name and he chose A. M. Weathers. Everyone called him Am, Ambers or Ambrose, but he was simply “Papa” to me. He will forever be “Papa” to me.

He married my grandmother, (whom we were requested early on to call “Mother”) she detested being a grandmother, on January 6, 1918. Edna Weathers was allowed to finish the third grade but that was the extent of her education. At least she could read and write and I think Papa relied on her tremendously.

They had two children, my mother Helen Estelle born, October 4, 1919. My mother had four children, Bonnie Dean Bradshaw Ford, Delmes Eugene Bradshaw, Deborah Laverne Smith and me. Their son, Robert, born in 1921 had three children, Steven Weathers, Gary Weathers and Jeffrey Weathers.

To this day I wonder how my grandparents ever conceived any children. I remember Mother telling me one day and for the life of me I have no idea why she would tell a mere child this, that she and Papa had never seen each other naked. Even as a child, I thought that was odd. I suppose their love was exchanged in the darkness underneath the covers since my mother was born in October, she must have been conceived in the middle of winter!

They lived thru WWI, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I’m sure at the time of each of those events, they “too” believed that it was the “end” of the world.

Papa and Mother eventually grew tired of working in the textile mills and discovered that Charlotte, NC was growing and with Wilkinson Boulevard also know as Highway 29/74, dissecting Belmont, NC they came up with the idea to build a “motor court”. By the time they were in their middle 50’s they had saved enough money to build a home and retire. I considered that to be quite an accomplishment for two people born at the turn of the century with little or no education.

Papa was riddled with arthritis but never allowed it to deter his activities. It was only in his early 70’s I believe that he stopped mowing his own grass. You see by the time he passed away, he had suffered seven heart attacks. He never lost his passion for toiling in the fields. He always had a garden. Corn, peas, green beans, tomatoes and of course, strawberries and water melons.

What precious memories I have as a child, clinging to his pant legs, dusty from tilling, admiring his work. There is one memory that sticks in my mind to this day and I have no idea why it stands out, but it does. I can remember my Papa tilling between the rows in the garden and little robins would hop along behind him, never afraid, looking for worms. I think he actually enjoyed tilling the ground for them as much as he enjoyed eradicating the weeds from between those rows! To this day, when I see a robin in the yard, I know symbolically that my Papa is still with me, cheering me on and wishing me the very best life has to offer.

Isn’t it odd the things that stick in our minds? I can remember him walking out into his garden with me just steps behind, pulling out his trusty pocket knife, reaching down and pulling a watermelon that wasn’t half grown and slicing it open for us to enjoy his harvest. I can remember how warm the melon was from lying in the sun. He would do the exact same thing with tomatoes as if they were apples. The aromas and the tastes of watermelons and tomatoes to this day take me back to a time when life was so simple and pure.

As I began writing this, the strangest thought occurred to me, I never remember hearing my Papa raise his voice. That in and of itself speaks volumes to me. What an accomplishment? How many of us can say that?

When he was approximately 71 years old and I can remember it like it was yesterday, I was around eleven, my mother was having a new roof put on our house, Papa and Mother just lived down the road a short piece, he kept walking up the road all day to see the progress being made. Up and down the road he would come and go. Even as a child I started to suspect something wasn’t quite right with him. As the day progressed, late in the day he spoke to my mother and then he left. It wasn’t long till everyone on that roof came down to earth and we got in the car and drove to his house. Little did I know at the time that he had revealed to my mother that he had not been to the bathroom all day.

My mother looked mortified, when we got out of the car at their house. My Papa was sitting on the front porch. He walked out to the driveway and my mother told my grandmother that he needed to go to the hospital. Papa had not even told my grandmother the predicament he was in, it was too embarrassing. Papa would have no part in going to the hospital. Upon my mother’s insistence, he finally agreed and we drove to Charlotte to the hospital. In the nick of time I might add! I can’t remember how many CC’s of fluid that they drained out of his bladder, but it was a lot. It didn’t take long for the doctor’s to realize that my Papa had an enlarged prostate. Days later the diagnosis! My papa had prostate cancer. I thought my world had come to an end but that wouldn‘t happen until two years later.

The doctors reassured our family that prostate cancer was such a slow growing cancer that in the condition his heart was in, his heart would stop before the cancer took his life. The condition of his heart? As a child, I thought, they have no idea how big his heart is, his heart would never break down! Ah, the naivety of a child. Our family chose not to even tell him of the prostate cancer, everyone thought it best that he not even have to deal with that kind of stress. It was the correct decision.

On, July 13, 1973, my Papa woke up, went to the kitchen to put water in the coffee pot. He apparently wasn’t feeling well, set the coffee pot on the side of the sink and went onto the back porch, sat in a chair, wrapped his feet up in an old sheet they used to hang up to keep the sun off the porch and passed away peacefully. I’m sure his circulation in the extremities had already begun.

It’s difficult to believe they didn’t have a telephone, but Mother had to go to the neighbors house and have them call my Mom and tell her that Papa had passed.

That is the day my world came to a screeching halt. The doctors were correct, my Papa with the biggest heart in the world, woke up one morning, sat down in a chair and his heart just stopped beating. The thoughts that must have gone thru his mind as he passed from the bonds of earth. The thoughts that must have gone thru Mother’s mind when she looked out the kitchen window onto the back porch and saw her husband of 55 years dead in that chair.

When we arrived, I can still remember vividly walking through the front door into the living room, my grandmother was sitting in a chair at the far end of the room, her head in her hands, repeating over and over, “What am I going to do without Ambers.” My Mom asked her where Papa was and we proceeded through the dining room, through the kitchen onto the back porch.

There Papa was, sitting in that upholstered naugahyde brown chair as if he had sat down to take a load off of his swollen feet. Did he know that he was taking his last breath? We will never know, but at the age of thirteen I can remember how peaceful he looked. I can remember that his body was still warm as I kissed and caressed him and told him good-bye!

The rest of that day that day was a blur! I do remember when the funeral home called and told us that we, as a family could come and view his body, like it was yesterday. We had undertakers in our family so when we arrived at the funeral home I felt safe, but when they took us to the room where he laid in that casket, I nearly had a stroke!

You see my Papa didn’t have any teeth! Yeah sure, he had dentures but he never wore them. Well only when he shaved! My grandmother asked me what was wrong and I said, “that doesn’t even look like my Papa! He hated those teeth and I think that he would prefer to be without them!” My grandmother looked directly at the undertaker, told him that Papa looked fine but the teeth would have to be removed! At some point after we left, they removed his dentures and the next day my Papa looked just like the gentle bear of a man that he had always been to me.

What I remember next was that my Mom stayed at that funeral home. She didn’t want Papa to be there alone! I think I remember someone in the family offering to sit with him so that she could go home to shower, but for the life of me, I don’t think she did. Back in the old days, families held wakes. Bodies were brought back to the home of the deceased where family members sat up with the departed.

I can remember the first funeral I attended, it was Papa’s brother, Garland. He was a big man too! They lived in a small town in a “mill” village and there house was up on hill up above the railroad tracks. I remember going there and there was Uncle Garland, in a casket laid out in the parlor. That had to have been around 1965. All the family was there and the immediate family sat up all night with him until they took him to the church for his service. I always wondered how they got that casket into the living room. In my later years, when I asked about that, I was told they had to bring him through a window. I don’t know if that is true, but it makes sense.

Nevertheless my mom, stayed at the funeral home with Papa, saying her good-byes, I’m certain. The day of the funeral in North Carolina, with no air conditioning, house full of people it was hot as the dickens! I can remember all of the family members talking about the things families discuss at a wake, the life of the deceased, etc. The thing I will never forget was over hearing some of our family members making the statement, “Well, I hope Ambers was right with the Lord!” You see my Papa wasn’t the type of man who went to church every Sunday, but I can always remember watching those religious “singing” shows with him that would come on every Sunday morning. He loved that old gospel music. At the tender age of 13, I stepped forward and said, “My Papa probably knew more about the Lord and was closer to the Lord than any of you will ever be.” I was as feisty then as I am now and I was burning up inside that anyone would cast a shadow on who he was and who he had been. Needless to say, the room fell silent. I know Mother was proud of me and that was all I cared about.

You have to know one thing about Papa, he was not just a good man, he was a great man. A man who had sacrificed his entire life for his family.

You see my Mom lost her first husband and father to her first two children during World War II on Guadalcanal, November 13, 1942 aboard the USS Juneau, the same ship that the five Sullivan Brothers were on. My sister was seven and my brother was five years old. To make matters worse, their father, Willis Bradshaw died on his son’s birthday. Before he went away he asked my Papa to look after my mom and his children and my Papa never wavered. Not for one minute, not for one day. Had it not been for his moral support, my mom would have probably committed the unthinkable.

My mom went on to marry again about ten years later and had my sister Debby, as luck would have it, that marriage ended in divorce. Who was there to father another child, but my Papa. He loved Debby with a passion that is reserved only for Saints! She came into the world October 12, 1954. She was the shining star.

In the late fifties, my mom tried marriage one more time and at the age of 40, she found out she was pregnant with me. What a shock that was in 1960, not to mention the fact that my grandparents lived on the east coast and my mom and sister were residing in the State of Washington, my mother embroiled in another divorce.

I was born, January 6, 1960 on my grandparents wedding anniversary. I’m sure they had given up the thought of any more grandchildren at that point, but my mother gave them an anniversary gift! Some might say that God blessed them with me, but you will never convince me of that. God blessed me with the greatest grandparents that have ever walked the face of earth!

I can honestly say their isn’t a day that goes by that I do not think about both of them. I’ve always heard that after a loved one passes, when you think of them, they are actually on the other side thinking of you. If that is a true statement, I feel their love every day of my life and for that I am eternally grateful.

My Papa was a man of few words, my Mother on the other hand was exactly the opposite. After Papa had passed and I moved from the small town in North Carolina to the big city of Atlanta, I would call my Mother regularly. I was much closer to her than I ever was to my Mom. She would always end our phone calls with, “honey, I love you and I’m praying for you.” I’m so ashamed to say that I asked her once, “Mother, will you please stop praying for me?” With the gentleness of a grandmother she said, “honey, I’ll do you better than that, I won’t ever stop praying for you, but I’ll quit telling you about it.” To this day, somewhere, some place, my grandmother still intercedes for me to God, I have no doubt about that.

My Mother died April 1987, I was twenty seven, I stood by her hospital bed and prayed for her. The night she died, she was in a tremendous amount of pain, she had broken a hip for the second time and her heart was too weak for surgery. I had crushed up her pain medication and put it in some apple sauce that I fed to her. (Why they didn’t have her on an IV, now that I look back on it, I’m not sure.) But my mom was out at the nurses desk and I was in the room with my Mother and she looked at the clock and said, “Jeopardy is on, will you turn on Jeopardy?” She loved that show, I’m sure she learned a lot over the years watching it. I told her yes and couldn’t believe that she was coherent enough to even know what time it was! I turned on Jeopardy, walked out of the room met my mom at the nurses desk, looked at the monitor for my Mother and saw it flat line. The next thing I remember was hearing “Code Blue” thru the intercom and I looked at my Mom and said, “you know Mother is gone?”

It’s strange how things in life occur. My Mom didn’t seem to be as distraught over her on mother’s passing as she was her father. I credit that to her alcoholism, at that point it had basically consumed her life. The funeral was beautiful, my Mother loved her church and they loved her! When we got into the limousine to go to the cemetery, there was a terrible storm brewing. By the time we arrived at the cemetery, the wind, the rain and the lightning were so intense we couldn’t even step outside the limousine. We sat there in silence, waiting for the storm to pass!

My sister, the Saint, age 33 at this point spoke up and said something to the effect that this weather suited Mother to a “T”. I’ve never understood how one grandchild could have a tremendous bond with their grandparents and another grandchild not, all I can say is that, I never missed out on Papa and Mother’s love, not one second, not one day. Neither did my other two siblings. To this day, each of us realize the sacrifices that our grandparents made for us.

To this day, I love to be out in the sun, working in the yard, planting vegetables and planting flowers. I toil in the dirt to satisfy my Papa. When I read a book or write anything, I think of Mother! She instilled in me a passion for learning. I thank God for blessing me with two of the greatest people I will ever know, my Papa and my Mother!



Jim said...

That's a great history and tribute to your grand parents. They sound like remarkable people. You know, the richest man in my hometown could not read and write either.

VoteNovember2008 said...

Isn't it amazing what people can accomplish if they don't think anyone else will bail them out! I was beginning to wonder if anyone had even read what I had written. I wouldn't be who I am today, had I not had the most beautiful people in my life. I look forward to connecting with them again one day!

Sue said...

VN8, What a wonderful piece of writing. You're a great storyteller! I hope you print this and save it.
Family stories are the very best and yours is special. It's very touching to hear of your love for your grandparents and their fascinating history. I have so, so much respect for people like that who are handed nothing and build successful lives anyway. Wish I could have known them.

VoteNovember2008 said...

Sue, I love to write! I have a book inside of me, I'm just waiting for it to get out! LOL I've certainly saved it, I just wasn't sure anyone would be interested in hearing about someone they didn't know. I've had them on my mind a lot lately and thought I would purge! There's so much more. I appreciate you taking the time to read "our" short story and saying such kind words.